Saturday, August 17, 2019

An Analysis of a “Modern” Sitcom

In his Sitcom: What It Is, How It Works, Richard F. Taflinger (1996)outlines not only what makes a television program comedic but more specifically what points to its being a situational comedy (or simply, sitcom). Examining a random sample of programs from 1950 to 1993, Taflinger identified three types of sitcom: actcom, domcom, and dramedy. But the scope of the studies were sitcoms that are now almost unknown to the modern viewers. Taking one of the most popular sitcoms of this generation – Friends – will Taflinger’s theories still hold water? Warner Bros. Television’s hit comedy show Friends started airing on 22 September 1994 and went on to span 10 seasons, ending only last 2004. The show has become sort of a cult following, which made big bucks not only for creators David Crane and Martha Kauffman, but also for the stars. (Internet Movie Database Inc., 2005) Being a sitcom, Friends is episodic in nature – meaning, there is a definite set of character, setting, and a plot for each episode (Taflinger, 1996). Friends fans have come to get acquainted with the six major characters in the series: Rachel Green (Jennifer Aniston), Monica Geller (Courtney Cox-Arquette), Phoebe Buffay (Lisa Kudrow), Joey Tribbiani (Matt LeBlanc), Chandler Bing (Matthew Perry), and Dr. Ross Geller (David Schwimmer). And in the ten years that fans have let the six friends into their living rooms, they have come to know each corner and nook of the characters’ apartment and their favorite hangout place, the Central Park Coffee Shop. (Internet Movie Database Inc., 2005) But unlike the sitcoms mentioned in Taflinger’s study, Friends does not strictly fall under the three sitcom categories named. In fact, this popular sitcom seesaws between being an actcom and a domcom. The series pretty much started as an actcom, with emphasis on the actions rather than the characterization. Parallel to Taflinger’s (1996) description of an actcom, the earlier series of Friends mostly featured Rachel, Monica, Phoebe, Joey, Chandler, and Ross as â€Å"shallow and superficial† and adhering to a certain societal stereotype. Phoebe was the ditzy, blonde female who always seems to be confused. Joey, who is her male counterpart, represents the struggling vainglorious actor. Releted essay –  An Empty Purse Frightens Away Friends Ross is the geek, Rachel the heartthrob, Monica the know-it-all, and Chandler the all-around typical American guy. During this time, most of the characters’ problems revolve around â€Å"mistakes, misunderstandings, attempts to influence the behavior of others, or unforeseen circumstances.† (Taflinger, 1996) Take for example Rachel’s realization that she likes Ross and, thinking that Ross likes her back (as touted by Chandler), she meets him at the airport only to be surprised that Ross arrived with a date named Janice. Also in line with actcoms, Friends’s situations during the first few seasons are complicated by â€Å"flaws in the plan to solve the problems.† (Taflinger, 1996) A classic example is episode 5 of Season 1, where Joey’s desire to have his ex-girlfriend Angela to break up with her boyfriend Bob led him to asking Monica to go on a double-date by lying that Angela and Bob are siblings. Yet as Friends progressed, it started to develop the characters more. We slowly saw changes in Rachel, Monica, Phoebe, Joey, Chandler, and Ross and their conflicts became more domestic. Around Season 7 and 8, the characters start to tackle dilemmas of a moral and emotional nature.   Most famous of these dilemmas is Joey eventually falling in love with Rachel. Creating a big story line in the show, this particular crisis creates a ‘moral’ dilemma for Joey – he wonders whether it’s right to love Rachel since she’s been with their friend Ross; and when Rachel also feels that’s she’s having emotions for Joey, she gripes about whether that emotion is right. Even with the evolution to a domcom, Friends still once in awhile go back to being an actcom. There will still be moments in latter seasons where Phoebe makes a really stupid comment or when Joey again proves to be self-centered. This occasional drift to actcom makes Friends a culmination of both the actcom and the domcom types of sitcoms. But even without a definite category, Friends is still undeniably a sitcom in that it meets the umbrella definition of what constitutes a sitcom’s plot, complication, and characterization: that they are deeply rooted – either by representation or by deviation – in idealized American middle-class (Taflinger, 1996). All the characters in Friends – save for some transient or guest stars – are of the middle class. Most of their dilemmas and problems are also typical of those in the same social status. Their decisions and actions are also based on how a typical middle-class American will act. Another element that makes the Warner Bros. Television series a sitcom is the sympathy evoked by each character. As Taflinger (1996) said, audience members identify with sitcom characters. The viewers are supposed to feel for what the character is going through and they almost always wish that the characters soon come to a resolution. Friends spanning into 10 seasons, with the last episode garnering an estimated 51.1 million viewers, plus the still constant clamor for the show to go back on air is a strong testament to the characters’ influence on viewers. It made such a big impact that people felt like Rachel, Monica, Phoebe, Joey, Chandler, and Ross are also their friends. (Internet Movie Database Inc., 2005) With the changing audience needs and wants, there is a need to redefine the types of sitcoms, calling for a combination of what makes one type click and eliminating what doesn’t. But what’s important is that sitcoms maintain their staple ingredients to become effective. Like Friends. Even with the deviation in the strict categorization of sitcoms, Friends still meet the very definition of what makes a situational comedy – middle-class American and sympathetic. REFERENCES Internet Movie Database Inc. (2005). â€Å"Friends† (1994). IMDb. Retrieved 20 October 2007, from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0108778/. Taflinger, Richard F. (1996, May 28). Sitcom: What It Is, How It Works. Retrieved 20 October 2007.

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